Opinion |

The Company Netanyahu Keeps

The Netanyahus behave like merchants in a bazaar: Anyone who grovels and pays for us to have fun — when the state won’t allow it — receives something in return.

Tal Niv
Tal Niv
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Illustration: As Netanyahu warns his cabinet against retroactively legalizing West Bank outposts, police are looking into his family's ties with Australian billionaire James Packer.
Illustration: As Netanyahu warns his cabinet against retroactively legalizing West Bank outposts, police are looking into his family's ties with Australian billionaire James Packer.Credit: Amos Biderman
Tal Niv
Tal Niv

What fun to be a billionaire with a pet prime minister. After all, what does a man who has everything need? Perhaps a little state in the Levant, where for peanuts — a nanofraction of his estimated wealth — fortune – he can stand beside the premier when he addresses the United Nations. Oh, and it will also allow him to “plan” his tax payments (to be as low as possible).

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s relationship with the Australian businessman James Packer is a mark of disgrace greater than that of the German submarines affair. It attests to the former’s low personal standards, pathological parsimony and a growing failure to distinguish between his personal and his public lives that has come to infect not only members of his family but also his self-righteous followers.

Netanyahu, lest we forget, is a citizen who as prime minister is in the service of all Israeli citizens. The Israeli public granted him the authority to represent it, and he is accountable to that public. His every action must be transparent.

Each and every Israeli citizen is the leader, and Benjamin Netanyahu works for each and every one of us. When he signs or ratifies an agreement to buy a submarine using our tax money (or, on our behalf, U.S. military assistance money), we should be able to feel confident that his personal lawyer isn’t also representing the submarine manufacturer.

A submarine is a strategic weapon. There is no doubt that Israel needs strategic weapons. Thus to a large degree, the debate over integrity and conflicted interests pales or even shrinks before the concrete dangers of an error in the procurement of weaponry and before the nearly incomprehensible amounts of money involved. Yes, and also the money to be made from lawyer’s fees, commissions and the like.

Yet it is the story of how the billionaire, a man who loves the good life, parties, yachts and travel, extended his hospitality (gifts, in effect) to the Netanyahu family that exposes the corruption and moral blindness with which the prime minister is stricken. The issue isn’t purely monetary — a supersized version of the Avner Amedi affair, in which the Netanyahus allegedly billed the state for private moving expenses; the affair of the electrician who was allegedly called in for repairs to the Netanyahus’ home in Caesarea on Yom Kippur or allegations that the Netanyahus failed to return gifts from world leaders.

There cannot be a situation in which Netanyahu is in the pocket of some wealthy person, nor one in which he hands out official gifts, such as a field day at the UN or participation in a supposedly critical foreign-policy move, as if to say “your world is my playground.” The Netanyahus behave like merchants in a bazaar: Anyone who grovels and pays for us to have fun — when the state won’t allow it — receives something in return.

That “something,” however, is not the private property of the Netanyahus, but rather public property, by definition. What is the criterion that could enable us, citizens of the state, to accompany our prime minister on his private vacation? Packer, who is not an Israeli citizen, divorced his fashion-model wife, the mother of his children, some years ago, and later became the partner of the American singer Mariah Carey. As it turned out, the Netanyahus very much like her music, but with all due respect to the Israeli-born movie magnate Arnon Milchan, who has a finger in every pie, and to the American entertainment industry, Israel was not founded so that Yair Netanyahu could be a guest in Packer’s home.

It is well-known that Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu are short on friends, but are they so short of money that they can’t foot their son’s hotel bill? A Hanukkah vacation in London may cost around 10,000 shekels ($2,500), including hotel and flights — can’t they afford that? A ski vacation is not something to which the prime minister’s children are entitled. Skiing isn’t exactly the national sport here, and the prime minister should in any event forbid his children to accept gifts, especially from people who might need favors from him.

For years now, Netanyahu has had a curious attitude toward money. The Amedi affair, the affair of the electrician who worked in the Netanyahus’ home in Caesarea on Yom Kippur, the allegations that Sara Netanyahu illegally pocketed thousands of shekels in refunds from deposit bottles and that garden furniture bought for the official residence in Jerusalem was in fact used at the private home in Caesarea, are not evidence of persecution. In fact, they show how the cowardly justice system handles Netanyahu with kid gloves, as he rides the wave of scaring the public over “national security.”

But the narcissistic, victim-playing rage that is displayed in his logic-challenged responses to the latest revelations by journalist Raviv Drucker has become a tsunami that could sink even a submarine. Netanyahu, who is so proud of his bizarre friendship with a billionaire who has been photographed in a drunken brawling, knows that if anything exposes his soft underbelly, it’s his friendship with somebody else entirely, lawyer David Shimron.

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